My Lost Weekend
Whip Me! Beat Me!
Several attempts were made during The Weekend to find or at least conjure that elusive Republican Agenda. Arizona Senator John McCain showed up and gave an open-to-the-press speech kicking off his presidential explorations. But the enthusiastic welcome he received melted into polite forbearance as he hammered out a half-hour's worth of mechanical, mainstream boilerplate. His appeals to "pride in our national heritage" and his self-definition as a "proud Reagan Republican" did little to fill in the Republican road map to the White House. "I was really very disappointed," said the increasingly iconoclastic columnist Arianna Huffington after hearing McCain's address. "His campaign consultants are Vin Weber, Ken Duberstein and Mike Deaver. You know, the people who brought us 'Dare to Be Dole.'" At least I think that's what Arianna said. Through her Greek accent I had trouble making out the last word. She might have said dull, not Dole. Same difference.
It was left to Jim Nicholson, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee, to define a new Republican charter. I have to admit that I felt a lot of pity for the guy. With probably half the party leadership living in fear of Larry Flynt and the Christian conservatives demanding more human sacrifices, it can't be easy trying to maintain any semblance of control. But I must have been the only person in the room on Nicholson's side. All that discomfort Republicans are feeling (if not admitting) about the political moment was focused like a laser beam on chairman Nicholson. Boos, hisses, catcalls and spirited denunciations from the floor met his undeniably vapid attempts at explaining the party's predicament. He spoke wistfully of a "disconnect" between Republican message and agenda. But there was "very good reason to be optimistic," he said. Even if there was no visible agenda today or, for that matter, a national Republican leader, they would soon emerge. "Within fifteen months," Nicholson promised.
That really sent the troops into a tizzy of scorn. Huffington, also sitting on the panel, razzed Nicholson by trashing Newt Gingrich and chiding the party for being "royalist and Stalinist, allowing no debate," and for adopting a stance embarrassingly soft on "corporate welfare" and one given to defining "morality as sexual morality." The GOP, she said, was rudderless. "If you have tears to shed," Huffington continued, "get ready to shed them the first time Denny Hastert appears on Meet the Press."
But the real knockout punch was delivered by Jimmy Carter's former pollster, Patrick Caddell (a sometime contributor to The Nation and occasional writing partner of this author). There must be one recalcitrant ember of sixties radicalism still smoldering in David Horowitz's otherwise wholly Republican soul. For it was truly an act of provocation for him to have invited the former Democratic strategist as a Weekend speaker.
Caddell, sitting on the dais with Nicholson, unleashed a torrent of critical abuse on the GOP and its leadership, at one point comparing the party to the bumbling and hapless 1962 Mets. Caddell won the most sustained standing ovation of the Weekend when he thrashed the Republicans for having alienated the electorate by staging a partisan impeachment of the President on the basis of the Paula Jones case while not going after Clinton for transgressions of much greater importance--such as campaign finance violations. "The House vote on the [impeachment] inquiry was transparently partisan," an excitable Caddell said. "Every dummy knew that the inquiry [should have ended] January 4. But noooo! The Republicans had to ramrod through their own proposal; they rolled out the steamroller, and there for all to see was Mister Ethics himself, Newt Gingrich, smirking and laughing, making this whole thing look like nothing more than vengeful payback."